The natural strawberry blonde of Katherine McNamara’s hair has finally started to return. To play Clary Fray in the new TV series “Shadowhunters,” her hair was dyed firebrand red. The color of an actor’s hair may seem like a trivial thing, but in this case it’s an important way to define the character.
“You know immediately that she is tough and fiery. We spent days coming up with just the right color for Clary. It defines her so much, I will never wear that color again in any other role,” McNamara says during a chat in the bar at the Langham Hotel.
The hair color is just one of the many details about the new series that fans of the “Mortal Instruments” books by Cassandra Clare have been watching closely. After the failed attempt to turn her books into a feature film, there has been some real concern.
“Shadowhunters” draws heavily on the books, but the first episodes don’t stick to material in the first novel. There are characters and some situations from later books that fit into the first season to help explain elements, especially for anyone who has not read the books but tunes in to the TV shows.
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“Shadowhunters” follows Clary, who finds out on her birthday that she comes from a long line of Shadowhunters – human-angel hybrids who hunt down demons. She’s thrown into the world of demon hunting after her mother is kidnapped.
Fray must rely on the mysterious Jace and his fellow Shadowhunters – Isabelle and Alec – to navigate the new dark world.
McNamara read all of the first series of books to get a good handle on playing the role. She calls playing a character who is based on a series of popular books a double-edged sword.
“It is amazing to have such a rich universe to draw on and a character who has been so well developed over this saga,” McNamara says. “I love having that because it gives me so much to go off of, and I can see a complete picture of who Cassandra thinks she is. But the television show is not a carbon copy of the book. We do our own thing. Take our own path. Because of that, the character is slightly different, which gives me something to play off of.”
Executive producer Ed Decter says the intent was to stay true to the spirit of the books.
“We love the books, and that’s what got us involved with the project to begin with. But we still have had a version of it out there, so we wanted to have surprises both for the real hardcore fans, we want to have a lot of surprises,” Decter says. “Then we want to also introduce the viewers that have never been exposed to the world, carefully and slowly to the world, so that they can get caught up in it, like we are.”
A lot of that introduction will come through the 20-year-old McNamara. She’s young, but she is ready to take on the challenges of starring in the action-heavy series after working on stage and in TV for years. Along with TV credits for “CSI,” “Unforgettable,” “Drop Dead Diva” and “The Fosters,” she started working on Broadway at the age of 13.
Her training in dance was a big help with her with the fight scenes, though she never had to dance with weapons like the ones in the series.
“There’s also a lot of brutality in the fight scenes, which you don’t often get in dance,” McNamara says.
It was her role in “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” that was a big help in getting her ready for the series. The film gave her an idea of the demands of big stunts.
She hopes viewers will pick up that this just isn’t an action show, but is also a story about romance, coming of age and at times a comedy. She likes the balance of all these elements.
“Something what I think draws people to this story are the characters, because even though we have every myriad of supernatural beings in our show, each one of these characters is going through something that’s very human,” McNamara says. “They’re figuring out who they are and who they love, and they’re falling in love for the first time and sort of becoming who they’re going to be in the world.”
That’s something that can give our viewers a very objective view of their own problems, because it’s set in this world of fantasy and angels and demons.
The series also stars Dominic Sherwood as Jace Wayland, Alberto Rosende as Simon, Emeraude Toubia as Isabelle Lightwood, Matthew Daddario as Alec Lightwood, Isaiah Mustafa as Luke Garroway and Harry Shum Jr. as Magnus Bane.
- 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, Freeform